[Working from the idea that all music is an autobiographical experience, I'd like to try and write about certain songs as they pertain to my life. No telling how often I'll get around to it.]
Weezer’s debut album — the first of three so far to be self-titled, but usually referred to as The Blue Album or, simply, Blue — was released in May 1994, the summer before my seventh-grade year and a month before I turned 12. The first single, “Undone (The Sweater Song),” was released in June, followed by “Buddy Holly” in September. That was followed by “Say It Ain’t So” in June 1995. All three songs charted well as Weezer became part of the pop consciousness, but “Buddy Holly” probably brought them the most recognition as their hardened pop — what I think of as “edgy shimmer” — took over the airwaves.
I knew none of this at the time. Or rather, I was aware that Weezer was a band that existed, and that they put out songs that kids far cooler than I was would sing in snatches around school. I saw friends listening to Discmans and holding the jewel case with its bright blue cover; I knew of the music video that featured what might be Fonzie; and that was about it. I grew up in a conservative religious household, which influenced what my parents would let me and my younger sister see or listen to (we didn’t watch MTV until I was probably 16, and even then it only happened because there was a glitch with the cable box and the parental controls became unlocked and my folks were too tired to fight the change), so we weren’t exactly steeped in popular rock.
But equally as influential was the fact that my parents just kind of stopped developing musically sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. In other words, around the time they got married and then had me. My dad would later tell me of the Clapton and Zeppelin LPs he had in college, and my mother would grin while remembering the Simon and Garfunkel vinyls of her youth. But for the most part, they just didn’t care anymore about what was out there. They didn’t want what was newer, and they didn’t seem to be able to connect to the passion they used to have for what was older. In the car, my father listened to classic country, while my mom preferred the modern country station or, later, oldies. So while it’s tempting to try and equate my ignorance of certain pop songs to my parents’ views on religion, it’s more accurate to place those blank spots within a broader context: They weren’t against music, just indifferent to it.
Because of that, I had to educate myself on the music of my time in whatever ways I could, and I often came to things years late out of nothing more than a desire to explore and appreciate something I’d just barely missed. I heard Weezer on the radio and even snagged a few mp3s at college (the fall of my freshman year was the tail end of the Napster era), but I didn’t own Blue until I was probably 20. I was out shopping with a friend and saw it on sale for $10 or so, and I decided on a whim to buy it.
It is, as everyone who’s heard it knows, a magnificent pop record, full of snappy hooks, dreamy choruses, and enough angst to fuel a million bad mix tapes. It’s an album I can listen to regardless of mood, location, or time of day; it just fits everywhere. Getting to know the album as a whole gave me renewed appreciation for the singles, too. No longer were those songs dispatches from a place I’d never seen. They were now a part of my young adult experience, serving as a soundtrack to my present even as they connected me in new ways to my past.
I lived in Los Angeles for five years after I graduated college, and the joy and pain of that time did more to shape me than anything else ever has. I discovered that Blue fit my awkward young adulthood like a tear-stained glove: “Surf Wax America” for driving down the PCH, “Undone” for the commute home after a night out with friends, “In the Garage” when I was feeling insecure, “Say It Ain’t So” when I needed to howl in the car. The songs became touchstones in my life, tying me to a time and place. I get just as nostalgic when I hear that record as I’d imagine my peers do, but I’m nostalgic for an entirely different time of our lives. They remember pubescent anger and a world viewed through fog; I remember my first job, my first love, my first heartbreak, my first apartment. The life I carved out of rock. The places I shouldn’t have gone. The things I’m glad I did. And the people that went with me.
Moving across the country to a place where no one knows you just to try your hand at a fate that might well destroy you is a challenge like no other. Most people do it in their 20s because that’s when they’re strong enough to take it. I was lucky during my time in California to make some truly great friends and find a fantastic roommate, all of whom made it a bit easier to survive the tough times that no one ever sees coming.
My roommate and I would throw an annual “Burgers, Beer, and Rock Band Bash” in the summer, opening up our apartment to friends all day. We cooked on the grill, swam in the pool, drank more than was wise, and played Rock Band on my roommate’s Xbox 360. They were wonderful days, easy ones, when we all took a break from figuring out adulthood. One year, I was noodling on the plastic guitar with a few others filling out the band when we played — what else? — “Buddy Holly.” It was the ideal song for the day, the kind of easy rocker that makes everyone sing along. I was drunk enough to be happily loose on the guitar, swaggering around and having fun with friends. I’d played the song before on the game but something about it just felt better that night. It was, for reasons I can’t figure out and wouldn’t want to bother trying to, exactly what I needed to hear. As we came to the solo, I slid into the groove without missing a note, feeling the fake/real music moving through me, inebriated enough to be happy I was home but sober enough to be thankful for the moment, surrounded by a family I’d found. I didn’t even think about those final eight notes when only the guitar played, though they’d tripped me up before. I just went into them, right as a friend turned and pointed at me to underscore the absurdity of pretending to be a band and the weird bliss of almost being them, and I nailed every note, and we all came back in together and sang our youth to the stars, I was a rock star, I was Buddy Holly, I was home.